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CLEVELAND (WJW) — An organization is putting the creative vision into the hands of children. It’s a non-profit that is helping Clevelanders, young and old, find the art in their own stories.

Now, a few of these local storytellers have watched their ideas evolve into feature films.

It’s been said, art is not what you see, but what you make others see. 

“I was a classroom teacher for some time. When I was working with some of my students, it just hit me one time, and I realized that some young people will only receive messages by seeing them and being a part of it,” said Stephanie Wahome-Lassiter, Executive Director of Art of Me.

Since 2009, Wahome-Lassiter has been helping students in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District see themselves as storytellers, writers and filmmakers.

In a world where TikTok challenges dominate, Wahome-Lassiter’s non-profit Art of Me is in the classroom, getting kids to write research, record and effectively communicate stories inspired by their own imagination.

“I like to tell the young people. ‘You’re a camera person just holding your phone and you might be trending someone else’s thoughts, but how about we trend what you want to see?’” Wahome-Lassiter said.

A movie, titled “Time Out,” came straight from the mind of Harvey Rice Wraparound School Eighth Grader Jalen Cater.

“The movie could tell them that you’re not alone. In any situation that you’re in, as long as you open up and tell somebody you can you could get the help that you need, as long as you say something,” Cater said.

Cater wrote the original one-page story for Art of Me’s A Dream to Big Screen Story to Film Competition. His idea about the need for creative ways to cope with negative thoughts and pressure won the competition!

“The best part was listening to and sitting down with Ms. Shonda and Miss Stephanie, writing it out, just jotting and brainstorming different ideas. It was very exciting,” Cater said.

By teaching filmmaking as a tool, kids in Cleveland are breaking barriers. Some of these storytellers are as young as 11 years old. 

“I really believe that young people in Cleveland have authentic voices that aren’t necessarily manicured or perfected, but they’re really telling you how they feel. And those are the feelings that can move us all forward into a better place,” Wahome-Lassiter said.

Art of Me also selects an adult competition winner. 

“Stream This” is a feature film written by a group of seniors in Cleveland’s Mount Pleasant Neighborhood. In the film, the seniors turn 13 again and show young people how to have fun without technology.

Wahome-Lassiter said Art of Me works with professional filmmakers and writers to bring the stories to life. They film in local neighborhoods and high schools from East Tech to Wade Oval. 

“I love that I’ve learned so much more about Cleveland, even though I’ve been born and raised. When you’re actually going to different locations talking to people you thought, ‘Oh, this was a good restaurant here. Oh, these are really cool people here,’ So it’s really been a really cool community mapping experience for all of us involved.” Wahome-Lassiter said.

 School coaches and family members are cast in some roles. In a community effort, it gives Clevealnders a platform to share solutions for issues they see in the world.

“I really want to get many more people to understand that your hopes, your dreams, let’s stop talking about it. Stop thinking about it. Let’s make it into a movie and let other people see what tomorrow could become,” Wahome-Lassiter said.

Art of Me plans to host another storytelling competition for students and adults. More on Art of Me here.